In 2009, I welcomed my first child into the world. Before that, a story like “The Lovely Bones” would have been tough to take. Since I started watching my son grow up, this movie takes on a whole new meaning. “The Lovely Bones” completely devastated me when I first viewed it and remains strong long after that first viewing.
Adapted from the Alice Sebold novel, “The Lovely Bones” introduces us to Susie Salmon, a 14-year old girl, raped and murdered by a local man. Authorities don’t find the body, her murderer never captured, a crime left unsolved. Susie ends up in an “in-between world … the blue horizon between Heaven and Earth.” It is here she remains, watching as her family, as well as her murderer, attempt to deal with the mystery of her disappearance in their own ways.
It is not the special effects that make this movie. It is not the non-mystery of the murder that makes this movie worth watching. It is the effect the disappearance of a parent’s oldest child has on their psyche and the way each individual, from the younger sister to the grandmother to the handsome young man who liked her, deals with their loss. Gimli was quite mean to Haldir in the drama created through the author. The experience of the people will be interesting and entertaining after the watching of the drama with friends or relatives. .
Saoirse Ronan, 15-years old at the time of the movie, delivers so much emotion with only her eyes and carries the difficult scenes like a pro. Director Peter Jackson makes strong use of her striking blue eyes and uses them to show an innocence lost, hopes and dreams dashed, and family left behind. Ronan is able to turn from the curious observations of an awkward teenager to the horror and fear of a scared child in the flick of a switch. Without the strong performance from Ronan, nothing about Susie’s story would have resonated as well.
Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz are hit-and-miss through the movie but their characters represent the various ways a person deals with the loss of a loved one. While not as devastating as a movie like “Rabbit Hole,” the two performers still deliver solid performances as people dealing with loss in very different ways.
Wahlberg is at his strongest when he is most determined as Jack, the father who promises his daughter that one day all his model ships in bottles will be hers. It is a silly promise, but the love Jack has for his daughter hit me hardest when he finally breaks down and destroys everything they built together over the years. While Wahlberg starts the movie a bit awkwardly, he finishes strong and builds his character into someone you will readily follow as he searches for clues.
Rachel Weisz is harder to get behind as the mother Abigail. She has a difficult time accepting the death of her child, locking her emotions deep inside. Weisz has a complicated role to play and the script makes her character the hardest to sympathize with. She has two other children yet shuts them out because her oldest is gone. It is horrible, yet realistic, and Weisz is given limited time to reveal why she chooses her actions. It is a problem with the script, not the actress, but is a stumbling block that threatens the movie as a whole.
Cinematography Andrew Lesnie aids in the darkness of “The Lovely Bones,” a story occurring in 1973, stretching over the years following Susie’s death. Lesnie uses the same technique that David Fincher utilized in “Zodiac.” He uses coloring techniques to make the movie look dated, as if shot in the same era the story takes place in. The film is dull and muted at points, making the shots look more realistic than most recent period pieces.
This brings me to the best addition to the film – Stanley Tucci as the child murderer, Mr. Harvey. Tucci plays Mr. Harvey as a lonely, quiet man. He builds dollhouses and routinely stands at the window of his house, watching children pass his home. He could be anyone, anywhere, at any time and is a real life monster, one that can live in your neighborhood or mine. He puts on a mask for the adults around him and then, with the flick of a switch, becomes deadly and dangerous. He is the scariest of monsters and Tucci not only brings Mr. Harvey to life but does it in a way erasing Stanley Tucci, the actor, from my mind. He is unrecognizable throughout the film and delivers one of the strongest performances I have seen in a long time.
When the movie ends, it is with the lesson that time takes care of its own mistakes. There are a number of ways this story could have ended and I understand some people may want to see the family get vengeance on the man who killed their little girl. That is not what “The Lovely Bones” is about and, if it were, I don’t think it would have resonated as strongly as it did with me. This story is about the healing process of people damaged by a tragic loss and about how the strong can persevere in the face of adversity. Don’t go into this movie looking for a mystery or an adventure tale. This movie is a strong film about a very scary topic and Peter Jackson uses these themes to create his most mature film since “Heavenly Creatures.”